Ever since she was a child, Victoria D’Amato-Moran was told by her father to never join the bar business.
But growing up in a San Francisco family of bartenders and cooks, D’Amato-Moran was not apt to take Dad’s advice.
Far before she came up with her own syrup line, before she became the local lady shaking sexy saffron sours at the Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant, before consulting and being behind the stick at restaurants and bars all over the Bay Area, she was the teenager whose father taught her how to make Grasshoppers, Brandy Stingers and Negronis.
And even before that, she was the little girl who held her grandfather’s hand, walking down to the docks before dawn in The City in her flip-flops to board his little Monterey boat to fish for salmon, crab, herring and urchin, which he would crack on the boat so they could eat it straight out of the spiny shell.
“It was better than any uni you could order at any sushi restaurant,” D’Amato-Moran said, that memory still fond to her taste buds. “My grandfather helped start up Fisherman’s Wharf, alongside the Aliotos and Tarantinos.”
She remembers when they would return the Italians of old, drinking brandy, selling seafood and cracking crab for locals and visitors. Up the road in North Beach, her father, “Dancing” Danny D’Amato, walked the plank at La Rocca’s Corner, The Intrigue and eventually owned a bar on Broadway called D’Amato’s. At home, her grandmother ran the kitchen and taught her how to cook what her grandfather pulled from the water.
So like any other stubborn Italian who does exactly what they are told not to, D’Amato-Moran said it only made sense for her to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the family trade.
“My father said no, but I did it anyway,” D’Amato-Moran said.
Tired of cocktail waitressing and a 10-year stint of working in a dental office, she wanted to put her creativity to use behind the bar, which she at first tried to keep hush-hush.
But that did not last long.
Her first gig was at Tony Nik’s in North Beach in 2000, where all her father’s friends and front-runners on that end of The City quickly caught onto the notion that “Dancing” Danny D’Amato’s daughter was stirring their Manhattans.
“I really was my father’s daughter behind that bar,” D’Amato-Moran said.
At Tony Nik’s, she began bringing syrups from home, made from the fruits in her backyard — something not common for bars at the time. There, she turned them on to guests, who insisted that she bottle and sell them.
Sometime in 2006, she came up with the idea to start her syrup company. As D’Amato-Moran tells it, her epiphany moment came while making a batch of simple syrup, when a breeze blew through her kitchen window that reminded her of her grandmother. The gust that blew through her kitchen also happened to push over a trio of jalapenos that she had sitting on the counter into the fire that heated the syrup.
“And there it was, a roasted jalapeno syrup,” D’Amato-Moran said. “I always get goosebumps when I tell this.”
But starting such a business would cost $80,000 off the bat — something she didn’t have. Fortunately for D’Amato-Moran, an old friend who remembered her syrups from Tony Nik’s was willing to help.
“I’ve lived this life of people telling me what I could do, couldn’t do, a life of having money, spending money, making money, having no money, then to get this email from someone telling me that they wanted to partner with me and my syrups, is just too good to be true,” D’Amato-Moran said.
In her bartending career, D’Amato has gone on to win 23 cocktail competitions. Her syrup line, Cent’Anni Spirit Syrups, is now being bottled with the hopes of being released later this year. Cent’Anni is a traditional Italian toast meaning “health for 100 years.” The Spirit Syrups part is in the memory of her grandmother.
“Like all things in my life, they’ve fallen into my lap,” D’Amato-Moran said.
Or into the fire.